While the second generation handsets from HTC and Oculus are getting shape hidden from the public eye, there are significant changes being announced or previewed for the upcoming Holiday season. The new controllers were ‘leaked’ a while ago, and should arrive as bundled and separate purchase (for people that have already purchased the Vive). Still, the biggest hurdle for the mass adoption of VR is, or it was, the necessity of a wired connection between the headset and computer. Headset must receive a very high bandwidth picture, so high that a signal from the computer to the headset had to be done by wire, using fastest HDMI (2.0) available.
Using HTC Vive immerses you in a virtual environment, but you can still feel the wire, ravel and worse. This restricts the user and reduces immersion. Wireless VR is imposed by nature of things and such solution is to be expected. The problem is that any of today’s systems cannot sustain the sufficient data rate, which is more than 6 Gbps while the user is moving and turning.
While signal compression sounds as a simple solution, it would bring its own problems into the mix. To address this, HTC Vive is the first to commercially offer a wireless high-end VR solution. A VR upgrade kit, as HTC for now calls it – is made by TPCAST, one of first companies invested by HTC’s Vive X accelerator program. Vive X is HTC’s initiative with the aim to accelerate the development of the global VR ecosystem. With its $100 million treasure chest, it supports startups and provides them with education, investment and mentorship.
As a part of TPCast announcement, HTC representatives stated that the latency challenge over Wi-Fi with the resolution of 2160×1200 at 90Hz is not visible, nor the quality is reduced. A few days later, TPCast officially announced that it can reach the latency of just two milliseconds when running the Vive’s 2K resolution at the frame rate of 90Hz. This is almost five times faster than the requirement for VR (90 Hz equals 9ms). The company used next-generation Wi-Fi standard at 60GHz, using the 160MHz wide bandwidth channel, enabling a 5.59 Gbps wireless data transfer. Some are skeptical about the real world performance, and they just might as well be.
At the time of publication, the manufacturer did not disclose technical data that explains how the wireless transfer was done but we will see. The upgrade kit can now be pre-ordered from VIVE’s Chinese website. While this is only a local website for China, it is expected to expand globally in time for the holiday season.
The product is available in limited quantities per individual order (credit/debit card lock) as the company wants to reach as many Vive owners as possible and limit re-sale price gouging. Existing Vive owners have priority in delivery, which is expected to commence during the first quarter of 2017. For the price of $220, you can have a wireless PC experience without a compromise of carrying a compromise PC or a similar product on your back. The way how the Vive Upgrade Kit works is a new part called the “Power Box,” which hides a standard battery that gives about 90 minutes of Wireless performance. Special, larger capacity battery was also announced.
Not to be outdone by HTC, Oculus is working on the wireless version themselves, codenamed “Santa Cruz”. There is also Intel’s Project Alloy and the mainstream VR specification which Intel developed in collaboration with Microsoft, and a few other players. Pay attention to a MoVR prototype, concept design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has great potential and for the mobile market because of the possibility to be processing large amount of data as a physically compact, small device. MoVR is based on MMW or Millimeter-length electromagnetic waves. They were first investigated in the 1890s and today they are used in many fields, from medical to weapons. MoVR, according to its specifications could enable multiple people to play a game at the same and in the same space. Still, HTC wins the title of “first high-end wireless headset” but the “Vive Upgrade Kit” have yet to prove itself… and appear in the shop close to you. 🙂
As far as that new controller from the beginning of the story goes… how do they look? Great… or weird?